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Career Profile: Surgeon

Career Profile: Surgeon

Derrick Cox, M.D., Surgeon, Clinical Research Fellow, Surgical Oncology Fellowship, Surgery Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

National Institutes of Health: Office of Science Education

I chose this career because…

I chose to become a surgeon because I was always interested in anatomy and science, and felt surgery was a unique way to unite the two. In addition, I wanted to practice in a highly respected and challenging profession. The field is quite rewarding because you can make an immediate positive impact on a patient’s well being.

I was influenced and encouraged by my father, who is an orthopedic hand surgeon. Having a history of cancer in my family exposed me to the subject in general and I gravitated toward becoming a surgical oncologist. I sought a clearer understanding of the pathophysiology of cancer and wanted to learn more about diagnosis and treatment options.

• Bachelor of Science, Microbiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
• Doctor of Medicine, University of Texas at Houston Medical School, Houston, Texas
• Intern and Resident, General Surgery, Los Angeles County-King/Drew Medical Center
• Immunotherapy Fellowship, Surgery Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland
• Surgical Oncology Fellowship, Surgery Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland

My typical workday involves…

My typical workday may vary since I participate in clinical and research endeavors. On clinical days, I usually arrive to the hospital between 5:30-6:00 a.m. to see preoperative and postoperative patients (pre-round). Once I have completed my pre-rounds to make sure all patient needs are addressed, I then go to surgical oncology rounds with the attending surgeon(s) to gain further insight/instruction on the surgical management of patients with cancer. After rounds, I report to the operating room to perform and assist in surgical procedures scheduled for the day. On research days, I organize my day around the particular experiments to be performed which may include growing cell cultures and applying molecular biological techniques such as cDNA microarray and real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR.

Major Clinical Duties

• Perform surgery on patients with various types of cancer, and provide postoperative care during recovery

• See and evaluate preoperative and postoperative patients for follow-up in the clinic

Major Research Duties

• Perform in vitro and in vivo experiments

• Collect and analyze data from experiments to write abstracts and manuscripts for publication

Use successful experiments to guide creation of clinical protocols

What I like best/least about my work…

What I like best about my work is the ability to operate, and in some cases, cure a patient of their illness or disease. It is a gratifying experience to help people when they need it the most. I enjoy counseling patients and their family to ensure their understanding of the disease, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.

What I like least about my work are the periods of inflexibility and long hours in my schedule. As a surgical oncologist, I am dedicated to patients first and foremost. I commit the time and attention to detail required to treat patients well with compassion and respect. I give of my time knowing that it makes a difference in peoples lives and that is rewarding for me as well.

My career goals are…

My career goals are to become a board certified academic surgical oncologist, and obtain a Masters of Public Health degree. I know the synergy between my surgical training and research endeavors will be enhanced by a public health degree. I strive to make a positive impact on my community by conducting clinical research focused on reducing cancer health disparities. After reaching the halfway point of my surgical oncology fellowship at the NCI, I am confident I can achieve my goals.

I have high aspirations of making a difference in surgical oncology because some of my own family members have succumbed to cancer. In the short term, I am delighted to engage in research that may lead to new treatments, prolong patient survival and quality of life, and decrease the pain and suffering associated with cancer.

Furthermore, I would like to serve as both a catalyst and spokesperson in the community for cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. As an African American, I know I can help to disseminate information through community activities at the grassroot level. Presently, I volunteer my time to the Maryland African American Health Program. I speak to community groups about breast and colorectal cancer screening and prevention, and perform related physical exams.


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